There’s a saying I like, but before I share it,
if you have children with you this morning you might want to cover their ears for a moment.
The saying is this about children:
‘You never get the one you want.’ [i]
The point of this saying is to point out that we don’t know what we’re doing when we have children – we think we know what we’re doing, but we quickly learn that we don’t.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t have children,
but I’m questioning the notion that we are somehow fully in control of these decisions and what they mean.
We might equally say churches never get the minister they want
or that they always choose the wrong minister.
Some of you might be thinking that this Christmas morning,
as you sit there wondering where this is going.
Let’s see if I can turn this into something for you go away and think about over your Christmas lunch.
We never get the children we want,
because they come to us as strangers.
Where they share our genes,
and we shape their environment and their lives in particular ways,
they also come to us unique,
and they have that special gift to both surprise us and at times distress us.
Most of us love our children,
but who they are is only in a very small way in our control.
And in this we have to learn to love them not for what we want them to be,
but for who they are.
Think about the times, on witnessing a new behaviour, or a new reaction,
you might have heard the phrase,
or you might have said the phrase:
‘where did that come from?’ or ‘where did she get that?’
Think about how children can be suddenly very hard of hearing when you
want them to do something
and also can be suddenly very good at hearing when you’re trying to say
something you don’t want them to hear.
We never get the children we want,
we want our children docile, obedient, perfect.
We want children who will fit into our lives,
as the verse from the carol Once in Royal David’s City goes:
‘Christian children all must be mild, obedient, good as He.’
The problem is right from the beginning they refuse to do what we want them to and I’m told this continues all the way into adulthood,
of course I’m also told we get our own back when we’re old and refuse to do what they want us to do!
There is always a tension between parents and children,
of having to live around each others lives.
Much of what I am saying is true also of marriage,
and true also of being part of the church.
We create expectations;
we create moulds into which we want to fit one another.
and at this point we arrive at the Christmas story,
because I want to suggest we also never get the God we want.
We want a God who agrees with us, who will say yes to our plans.
We want a God who keeps us safe from harm and suffering and upset.
We want a God who will make everything right without any waiting and any struggle,
and instead we get Jesus.
Through Advent we’ve been thinking about the four names
the prophet Isaiah gives to the hoped for king:
Wonderful counsellor, mighty God, prince of peace
and everlasting Father.
And each week we’ve been invited to see what these names mean in the light of Jesus,
and what we’ve found is what we think they mean at first glance, is played our differently in the life of Jesus.
We never get the God we want.
In our reading from John’s gospel,
we hear that the world did not recognise him
and those who were his own did not receive him.
God in Jesus is not the God we want,
but it is the God we get.
And there is no other God, hiding, waiting to jump out,
there is no other God of our own making, of our design.
The God in Jesus we don’t want,
is the God we get.
God comes to us in Jesus
as a crying baby,
unable to fend for himself,
unable to do anything to make our lives better.
We were thinking last night about
whether God gets messy,
and there is a real truth that God embraces our mess:
birth is messy,
children are messy,
and becoming adults is just another kind of mess.
We want a God to take away the mess,
but for the large part God comes to sit with us,
play with us,
dwell with us in our the mess of being human.
and out of that mess God brings salvation.
In the story of Jesus’ birth from Matthew’s gospel, we are told that Jesus will be Emmanuel, he will be God with us.
I said at the beginning of these reflections
that we never get the children we want,
and that means we have to learn to love the children we are given,
and in this way,
we can learn to want different things,
to change our expectations,
to revise our plans and dreams.
It's the same for church,
church is about learning to love the people we are given,
The annoying ones, the quiet ones, the demanding ones,
Jesus says learn to love them, because
hey I had to learn to love you!
In the same way,
and more so,
we might not get the God we want,
but we are called to love the God who is given,
who comes to us in Jesus
and in learning to love the God who gurgles in a manger,
and later dies on a cross,
we also learn that our wants are transformed,
and our desires are re-directed,
and that although we don’t have control of our lives,
it does not matter for God is with us in the mess
and he will lift us up
and turn ashes into beauty,
death into life,
despair into hope,
doubt into faith,
hate into love,
indifference into compassion,
pride into humility,
weakness into strength,
silence into song,
mourning into dancing,
fighting into peace,
suffering into glory,
sinners into saints.
Thanks be to God that he is the God he is
and not the God we want.
And Happy Christmas!
[i] The saying originated from Stanley Hauerwas.